p11 & depression

Reversing depression

Michael Kaplitt, a neurosurgeon at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, whose lab develops gene therapies for brain disorders, teamed up with Greengard and other colleagues in the new study.

The idea was “to identify the areas of the brain in which p11 is particularly important, in order to find targets” for new therapies for depression, says Kaplitt.

The researchers first used a technique called RNA interference, which turns genes off, to block the expression of p11 in two mouse brain areas linked to depression. When they delivered the blocker to one of these areas, known as the nucleus accumbens, the treated animals struggled less than controls when held by the tail, and also swam less actively than controls when released into a container of water — two tests routinely used used to determine whether antidepressants are working in animal models.

Next, they injected a viral vector carrying the p11 gene directly into the nucleus accumbens of the mutant mice lacking the gene. The p11 boost in this brain area was enough to undo the mutants’ usual depression-like symptoms.

Finally, the researchers turned to humans, and compared postmortem brains of 17 individuals who had depression during their lives, with those of individuals who had not. The nucleus accumbens of people with depression had much lower levels of p11 than that of their non-depressed counterparts.

The findings suggest, says Kaplitt, “that if we can reverse that low level of p11 in this area of the brain we can reduce depressive symptoms”. (via.)

Enhancing Language Acquisiton via an Algorithm (An idea?)

via /r/linguistics:

Idea #2:
A website that allows you to enter the vocabulary words you know in a language, which it then algorithmically finds articles on the internet that includes the words you know, while introducing new ones at a rate of 10-20% per article.

With each article, the new words are included, with definition at the bottom in your native language, and perhaps even includes an updated mnemosyne/supermemo/anki flash card stack.

I would pay for this! On a monthly basis, and I think hundreds of thousands of people would too. Entire institutions would probably adopt it almost immediately. Think of the power… It would allow people to immediately start engaging and using the language they’re learning from day one in a very natural and progressive manner. This could revolutionize the way people learn articles and there is technology that is similar in nature that exists already. See copyscape (it’s a site that checks or plagiarism in bodies of text).

Why has this not been done yet? The best reason I can come up with, in my mind, is that the right people possessing the right skills simply haven’t had the stroke of insight.

What do you guys think?

Addendum for idea #2:
So everyone seems to dig the second idea. Perhaps the most sensible way to use this product/website is from day one of starting to learn a new language, in which case, a really sensible way to find the initial vocab words to learn it would be cool to plug in an article, in your native language, on a subject you’re really interested in, and it pull out the top translated words you’d need to understand a similar article in the language you’re going to pick it up in. This could help to start that initial entry of vocab words that would be awkward to get the ball rolling.

In addition, perhaps as a way to “set the initial bar” for vocab the app/website could show a body of text and let a person click the words that they either do or do not understand. This might make more sense than manual entry. This might even be more useful/intuitive to use than the suggestion in the paragraph immediately prior to this one.

Someone replied with a suggestion for a website that is at least somewhat similar:

hey guy I know a website that is very similar to the description you’ve made in the idea #2.
It doesn’t looks for texts on Google, but it has a huge library in 10 languages with materials in both AUDIO and TEXT. You can also IMPORT your own content to the site.
There are tools in which you can tell to the system of the site that you know a word.
When I first got to the site I already had a good vocabulary. So, I imported texts where you know all the words and clicked the “I know all” buttom, telling to the system of the site: ‘Hey, I know all this words. Give me something more difficult!”
Number of Unknown Words When you go to the library you can see the amount of unknown words in every material.
Dictionary Integrated to the Site When you open a material, you have a huge array of online dictionaries one click away of you. There’s babylon, google translator and more. You just have to click on the word to see the definitions.
Flash Card tool When you click in a word, you not only see the definiton, but you can also create a flash card for this word, using its definition and an example of a phrase with this word (taken from the text you are reading).
Every time you open a lesson at the site, you see the words you don’t know highlighted in blue. The words for which you have created a flash card highlighted in yellow.
And Much More You can have help from native speakers tutors to answers your questions, correct texts and chat online.
Take a look, it’s called LingQ.
Best Regards. Pedro Junior

Software for Learning Languages: ming-a-ling, languagebob, antconc & more

You may be interested in these websites/programs/information intended for language acquisition:

  • ming-a-ling (firefox addon) – Helps you learn the vocabulary of a foreign language. You add words and phrases in your language, and when they appear on the pages you visit, they’re replaced by Google’s translation into the foreign language. Hover your cursor over a translated phrase and a tooltip will popup that tells you the original.
  • LanguageBob (firefox addon) – Very similar to ming-aling. Maybe identical? “Browse the Internet as normal and LanguageBob will drip-feed you the language. Let your Internet-time double as language-learning time.”
  • The Polyglot Project – A library of foreign language content for you to work with, starting with classic literature from all over the world.“We’ve made it easier for you to immerse yourself by building a translation tool that will help you learn new vocabulary without interrupting your reading flow. Just double click on a word and the English translation will briefly appear and then get out of your way so you can keep reading (and you won’t need a dictionary in your hand or another browser window slowing you down).”
  • speech accent archive
  • Learn Any Language Wiki – Unofficial offshoot of the learnanylanguage forum. Also has an IRC channel #learnanylanguage on irc.freenode.net.
  • Amhrán is Fiche“On Amhrán is Fiche (“Twenty-one Songs”), three well-known singers from three different Gaeltachts sing twenty-one favourite songs. Follow the bouncing ball in this karaoke-style program. Listen to the singers, and then play the songs without voice so that you can sing them yourself. Printable versions of the lyrics, on-screen English translations and sample lesson plans based on the songs are also available. The CD can also be played as music CD in a normal CD player.”
  • Wiktionary’s Frequency Lists
  • AntConc – AntConc is software for creating a concordance from a body of text. Basically, make your own frequency lists from text you want to learn.
  • This javascript applet also appears to do something similar to what antconc does.

Creativity, Depression, and DHEAS (a hormone that “blunts the effects of cortisol”)

Well, it turns out the cliché might be true after all: Angst has creative perks. That, at least, is the conclusion of Modupe Akinola, a professor at Columbia Business School, in her paper “The Dark Side of Creativity: Biological Vulnerability and Negative Emotions Lead to Greater Artistic Creativity.” The experiment was simple: She asked subjects to give a short speech about their dream job. The students were randomly assigned to either a positive or negative feedback condition, in which their speech was greeted with smiles and vertical nods (positive) or frowns and horizontal shakes (negative). After the speech was over, the subjects were given glue, paper and colored felt and told to create a collage using the materials. Professional artists then evaluated each collage for creativity.

In addition, Akinola also measured DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone), an endogenous hormone that blunts the effects of stress hormones like cortisol. (As I’ve written about before, depression is closely entangled with chronic stress.) Given this chemical power, it’s not surprising that low levels of DHEAS have been associated with susceptibility to volatile mood swings and downward spirals of sadness. Finally, subjects were also asked to self-report their moods, giving the scientists a subjective and objective measurement of how they were feeling, and how the feedback to the speech had shifted their emotional state.

Not surprisingly, positive feedback cheered us up: Participants who received smiles and nods during their speeches reported feeling better than before. Negative feedback had the opposite effect – it’s no fun having our dreams trampled on.

Here’s where things get interesting: People who received negative feedback created better collages, at least when compared to those who received positive feedback or no feedback at all. Furthermore, those with low baselines of DHEAS proved particularly vulnerable to the external effects of frowns, so that they proved to be the most creative of all. (via.)

Other interesting DHEAS tidbits:

Stress-related Gene (MKP-1 or MKP1), Depression, and Heat Stress

Duman’s team did whole genome scans on tissue samples from 21 deceased individuals who had been diagnosed with depression and compared gene expression levels to those of 18 individuals who had not been diagnosed with depression. They found that one gene called MKP-1 was increased more than two-fold in the brain tissues of depressed individuals.

This was particularly exciting, say the researchers, because the gene inactivates a molecular pathway crucial to the survival and function of neurons and its impairment has been implicated in depression as well as other disorders. Duman’s team also found that when the MKP-1 gene is knocked out in mice, the mice become resilient to stress. When the gene is activated, mice exhibit symptoms that mimic depression.

The finding that a negative regulator of a key neuronal signaling pathway is increased in depression also identifies MKP-1 as a potential target for a novel class of therapeutic agents, particularly for treatment resistant depression. (via.)

Interesting tidbits from elsewhere:

Choline stemming some averse cognitive effects of smoking?

As I have mentioned in at least one previous post, choline may have some anxiolytic effects. The reason being for this is that choline, in at least one study was shown to have an inverse relationship with reported anxiety levels in a study’s participants.

Additionally I recently made a post about a study that showed a reduction in choline in the anterior cingulate cortices of people who have been smoking.

“The ACC is involved in mediating conditioned reinforcement, craving and relapsing behavior in addiction,” said study co-author Christian G. Schütz, M.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Bonn.

So this begs the question… could supplementing choline play at least a small part in a larger scheme to help smokers prevent relapse when they decide to quit?

Limits of Willpower

A new study from Stanford psychologists suggests the urge to refresh (or just procrastinate) is – well – all in your head.

In a paper published this week in Psychological Science, the researchers challenge a long-held theory that willpower – defined as the ability to resist temptation and stay focused on a demanding task – is a limited resource. Scientists have argued that when willpower is drained, the only way to restore it is by recharging our bodies with rest, food or some other physical distraction that takes you away from whatever is burning you out. [...]

“If you think of willpower as something that’s biologically limited, you’re more likely to be tired when you perform a difficult task,” said Veronika Job, the paper’s lead author. “But if you think of willpower as something that is not easily depleted, you can go on and on.” (via.)

Willpower, in my opinion, is still, of course, biological. I’d like to have participated in the study in done my damnedest to break that trend. And by that, I mean call it biological, and still be one of the best performers. I don’t like the idea of having delude myself in order to get maximum performance.

Close Friends Light up Medial Prefrontal Cortex more than Strangers

The research subjects’ brain regions responded more to questions regarding their close friends than they did to strangers with similar interests. The experiments attempt to show that social closeness is used more than similarity of beliefs when evaluating others in some tasks relying on the medial prefrontal cortex region of the brain. (via.)

Religion’s Strange Relationship with Branding

The researchers discovered that individuals “with low levels of religiosity use brands to meet a need for self-expression that people with a high sense of religiosity can satisfy through religion.” In other words, the more religious you are, the less vulnerable you are to branding.

Of course, “brands allow people to express that they are meaningful, worthwhile beings, and deserving of good things in their lives,” and this applies only to products like clothes, and not batteries (I can’t be the only Duracell guy out there, can I?).

The religious shouldn’t heave a big sigh of relief just yet. These findings suggest that religiosity—or religious priming, in which the researchers simply have test subjects think about religion before making purchasing decisions—could be manipulated by retailers who want you to purchase their own generic store brands. Further, an earlier study suggested that once religious fundamentalists “choose a product they are more likely to remain loyal to it.” (via.)